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The Samoan people are a Polynesian ethnic group of the Samoan Islands or their descendants, sharing genetics, language, history and culture. As a result of colonialism, the home islands are politically and geographically divided between the country of Samoa, official name Independent State of Samoa (formerly Western Samoa until country name change in 1997) and American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States.

Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Samoa 194,320
 United States 184,440[1]
 New Zealand 131,103[2]
 American Samoa 55,519
 Australia 55,843[3]
Samoan, English
Predominantly Christianity of Protestant denominations (chiefly Congregational Christians, Methodists, Latter-day Saints, and Assemblies of God) and also Roman Catholicism. Non-Christian minorities include the Bahá'í Faith and Islam.[4]
Related ethnic groups
Other Polynesians

Samoans living in Samoa in 2006 were estimated at 188,000.[5] The majority of ethnic Samoans now reside in other countries, primarily in the United States (180,000 in 2012),[6] New Zealand (115,000 in 2001)[7] and Australia (55,843 in 2011).[8]



A Samoan family, circa 1909

Although the Samoan Natives (Tagata Māo‘i) have long claimed to be the indigenous people of their islands — holding firm to the belief that Samoans were birthed by special creation in Samoa — it has been theorized by many linguists and anthropologists, based on linguistic commonalities as well as archaeological findings, that migrants from Southeast Asia arrived in the Samoan Islands approximately 3500 years ago, settling in what has come to be known as Polynesia further to the east. This approximation is based on the Lapita pottery that has been dated to that time.

It is possible, as the natives suggest, that the Samoan Islands were settled some time before 1000 BC and that the original settlement predates the arrival of those to whom the pottery was culturally relevant. Furthermore, the Samoans have developed a language, culture, and social practice most divergent from the other ethnic groups associated with the Lapita pottery.

Early contact with Europeans was established in the 18th century. Christianity was formally introduced with the arrival of L.M.S. Christian missionaries in August 1830.

During the early 20th century the Samoan Islands were partitioned by Germany, Great Britain and the USA. Tutuila and Aunu'u islands were claimed by the USA and later joined by the Kingdom of Manu'a (1904) to become the current Territory of American Samoa. The western islands became German Samoa. In 1914, New Zealand forces captured the islands from Germany, thus becoming Western Samoa. Western Samoa regained its independence on January 1, 1962. In 1997 it formally changed its name to Samoa.[9]


Samoan family


Tattooing taking place circa 1895.

Traditional Samoan tattoo (tatau), pe'a (male tatau), malu (female tatau), demonstrate the strong ties many Samoans feel for their culture. Samoans have practiced the art of tattooing men and women for over 2,000 years. To this day, a man's tattoo extensively covers from mid-back, down the sides and flanks, to the knees. A woman's tattoo is not as extensive or heavy. The geometric patterns are based on ancient designs that often denote rank and status. The va'a (canoe), for example, stretches across a man's mid-back.

Samoan oral tradition generally recognizes that two Fijian women, Taema and Tilafaiga, introduced the practice of tattooing. Before the arrival of Christian missionaries, starting in 1830, all Samoan males got a traditional tattoo. Though the early missionaries did not succeed in outlawing the practice (which they considered as defacement of the body and heathenish), they eventually succeeded in refocusing the custom on the sons of chiefs.

In Samoa's cultural past most males were tattooed between the ages of 14–18, when it was determined they had stopped growing, so the designs would not stretch and suffer in beauty. Today, there has been a strong revival of traditional tattooing in the past generation, not only in Samoa but throughout Polynesia, often as a symbol of cultural identity.

Tatau, the Samoan word for tattoo has a number of meanings including correct or rightness. It also signifies the correct quadrangular figures in reference to the fact that Samoan tattoo designs do not include circular lines, although other Polynesian tattoo motifs do. Early Englishmen mispronounced the word tatau and borrowed it into popular usage as tattoo.

Traditional tattooing is a painful process. The Samoan tattoo master dips his cutting tools into black ink made from the soot of burnt candlenut shells and then punctures designs into the skin. The cutting tool consists of a short piece of bamboo or light wood with a piece of tortoiseshell bound at right angles at one end. A little bone comb is bound to the lower broad end of the tortoiseshell. The larger the comb, the greater the area on the skin is covered with fewer strokes. The master uses a small mallet to repeatedly tap a short-handled instrument. The process takes days and is sometimes partially accomplished over longer periods, with recuperation in between.

Tattoo designs have changed to include freehand symbols such as the kava bowl representing hospitality; the characterization of the Samoan house or fale signifying kinship; emblems of nature — shells, fish, birds, waves, centipedes; and the traditional geometric lines and angles of different lengths and sizes.[10]


Modern pop and rock have a large audience in Samoa, as do several native bands; these bands have abandoned most elements of Samoan traditional music, though there are folky performers. Recently, the population has seen a resurgence of old Samoan songs, remixed in the style of Hawaiian reggae but with some traditional elements, such as the use of the pate and old chord structure.

Initially in Samoan music,

"there were just two instruments in use; the pate, a hollowed out log drum that comes in various sizes, and the fala, a rolled up mat beaten with sticks. In addition to this was the human voice. This limited range of instrumentation had no effect on the importance of music in Samoan life. Because there was no written language many stories and legends were propagated through song and the complex rhythms from the pate are essential in the performance of many Samoan dances. In fact in many dances, the dancers themselves add to the rhythm by clapping their hands, and dependent upon the way in which the hand is held produce a range of different sounds. Two instruments were developed that are now synonymous with Samoan music, the selo and the ukulele. The selo is a stringed instrument made from a broomstick, or similar object, attached to a large box, bucket or other object that acts as a sounding board. A single length of string joins the top of the stick to the box, which is plucked to produce a sound similar to that of a bass. The ukele is a small guitar-like instrument but with only four strings. It can be found in two forms, one which is like a miniaturised guitar, the other where the body is made from half a coconut shell."[11]

Western string instruments such as guitars are widely available across the Pacific Islands, with many bands performing and recording acoustic and amplified music in Samoa since the 1970s. Younger generations continue to perform in string bands as well as gravitate toward genres such as rap, R&B, gospel and soul.

The nearly three decades of Samoan involvement in street dance and rap music in the United States has significantly impacted cultural production in places where Samoans settled, particularly New Zealand.[12] Nesian Mystik, a New Zealand hip-hop outfit with several Polynesian members, features Samoan-Chinese member Sabre Strickson-Pua. Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., featuring several Samoan brothers from Carson, California, have been working with music since 1988. Boo-Yaa came into the hip-hop game at the same time as Ice Cube, and they often resemble the West Coast hip-hop style.[13]

Christian musicEdit

As with many South Pacific peoples, Samoans are heavily religious. Over 90% of all Samoans in Samoa and American Samoa are Christian with over 90% of that population attending church weekly. Similarly high numbers are seen across the Samoan diaspora. Samoan choral music is vital in every religion practiced by Samoans and a number of prominent composers are well known among Samoans whether composing simple hymns or a classical "Salamo" (Psalms), a multi-movement choral piece. The most notable of these are from the Ekalesia Faapotopotoga Iesu i Samoa (EFIS or CCJS, the Congregational Church of Jesus in Samoa), the Ekalesia Faapotopotoga Kerisiano i Samoa (EFKS or CCCS, the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa), the Ekalesia Faapotopotoga Kerisiano i Amerika Samoa (EFKAS or CCCAS, the Congregational Christian Church of Am. Samoa), and the Ekalesia Metotisi i Samoa (Methodist Church in Samoa).

The two pioneers and prolific composers of church music were HC Mata'utia Pene Solomona (EFIS, Apia)and his nephew Elder Dr. Ioselani Pouesi (EFIS, Apia; EFKS, Fasitoouta). They began writing music for EFIS in 1941 and for the first EFIS hymnal Pese ma Viiga i le Atua (220 hymns, published 1953) and also composed music for the EFKS, EFKAS, Catholic, and Methodist churches. Prof. Ueta Solomona (Mata'utia Pene Solomona's son) retired from the University of the South Pacific in 2008 and was one of the music committee members who composed music for the EFKS hymnal. Namulauulu Dr. Paul Pouesi (Elder Ioselani Pouesi's son) is currently serving EFKAS in Vatia and EFIS in Pago Pago as Minister of Music. He published his second hymn book Ole Pese Fou i le Alii (445 hymns and psalms, pub. 2005) dedicated to the EFKAS 25th anniversary. Flo Wendt continues to write and record music for EFIS choir in Fagatogo. Dr. Polo Manuma and his father Viavia Manuma wrote music for their EFIS choir in Pago Pago.

The music of all the above composers is published in the EFIS hymnal Pese ma Viiga i le Atua 2nd edition (361 hymns and psalms, pub. 1994, music compiled by Namulauulu Paul Pouesi). Samoan gospel music is a newer subgenre in the genre of "Pese Lotu" (Samoan Church music). Heavily influenced by African-American gospel it is most heard in the Samoan Assemblies of God churches (Ekalesia Faapotopotoga a le Atua i Samoa) although the style is very popular amongst youth groups (Autalavou) in religions amongst Samoan people known for its often upbeat and Black gospel influence.

Although originally most pieces were written for choir and piano or organ, electronic keyboards and synthesizers are very popular. Brass and orchestral accompaniment though less common in early church music are often specified by composers today.

Typically though, Samoan Christian music is most commonly heard in the daily worship held by Samoan families around the world. In the Samoas this time is sacred as most villages and towns ban traffic in the streets during evening family worship ("Lotu"). Families raise their voices in song without accompaniment which can heard all throughout the village. Whether out of love for God or out of unbreakable tradition, families sing the hymns of old or newer songs of praise.

There are also various types of Samoan instruments


Traditionally, Samoans have incorporated dance in their customs. The original Samoan dance form is known to be one of the few areas of their culture which has not been heavily influenced by American tradition.

The fire dance or Siva Afi is a big part of the Samoan culture. The slap dance, performed by males, consists of fierce slapping of the body in rhythmic motion to drum beats; it is called faataupati.[14] Other Samoan dances include the maulu'ulu which is an all-female dance and is more elegant. The taualuga is a dance for the chief's son or daughter. When a girl does taualuga she is called a taupou. When a boy does a tauluga he is called a manaia.


Several Samoan athletes have won medals at the Summer Olympic Games representing Samoa, United States and New Zealand. They include Greg Louganis(United States) who won four gold medals and one silver for Diving in consecutive Games from 1976 to 1988.[15] Louganis also took five gold medals at the FINA World Aquatics Championships. Other Olympic champions are Robin Leamy (swimmer) a 1984 gold medalist with the United States men's 4×100-meter freestyle relay team,[16][17] Eric Fonoimoana an American gold medalist for Beach Volleyball [18] at the 2000 Summer Olympics and Tumua Anae [19] who won gold with the United States women's Water polo squad at the 2012 Summer Olympics.[20] David Tua representing New Zealand secured a bronze medal for boxing[21] in the heavyweight division at the 1992 Summer Olympics. Tua had previously won a bronze medal at 1991 World Amateur Boxing Championships. Ele Opeloge created history for Samoa by earning the nation's first ever Olympic medal, a silver in the Women's +75 kg Weightlifting class at the 2008 Summer Olympics.[22] Niall Williams was part of the New Zealand Black Ferns sevens team which won silver for Women's rugby sevens at the 2016 Summer Olympics.[23]

Maselino Masoe became the first Samoan professional boxer to win a major world title, defeating Kenyan born Evans Ashira on May 1, 2004 for the regular WBA world middleweight crown via second round Technical Knockout.[24]

Lupesoliai La’auli Joseph Parker became the first Samoan professional boxer boxer to win a major world heavyweight title, taking the WBO heavyweight crown in defeating Mexican-American Andy Ruiz on December 10, 2016.[25]

Samoan Australian Jai Opetaia won the Light heavyweight gold medal at the 2011 AIBA Youth World Boxing Championships[26] held in Astana, Kazakhstan. With his historic victory, Opetaia became the first Pacific Islander and Australian amateur boxer to win a world championship.

In Professional bodybuilding, Australian based Samoan Sonny Schmidt became the first Pacific Islander to win a Mr. Olympia event when he was crowned the 1995 Masters Olympia winner for contestants over 40 years of age.[27][28]

Samoan New Zealander Beatrice Faumuina won the gold medal for Discus at the 1997 World Championships in Athletics.[29] She would compete at four Olympic Games from 1996 to 2008, her highest placing - 6th in 2004.

Lisa Misipeka won a bronze medal at the 1999 IAAF World Championships in Athletics for the Women's hammer throw. Her third placing giving American Samoa its first ever medal at a world athletics championship event.[30]

On 8 December 2001, tournament underdog Mark Hunt made history when he became the first and only non-European kickboxer to win the coveted K-1 World Grand Prix title in Tokyo, Japan by defeating Frenchman Jérôme Le Banner, German Stefan Leko and Brazilian Francisco Filho in a single night.[31] The following year Hunt would advance to the semi-final round of the Finals before losing a decision to Le Banner.

In the world of Sumo, Fiamalu Penitani aka Musashimaru Kōyō was only the second non-Japanese ever to achieve the highest honour in the sport, earning the rank of yokozuna in 1999. Musashimaru is only one of six foreigners to achieve the rank of yokozuna during the sport's long history. He retired in 2003. Popular Saleva'a Fuauli Atisanoe nicknamed The Dump Truck reached the rank of ōzeki-the second highest rank in the sport-in 1987.[32]

In Rugby union, Samoan New Zealander Tana Umaga became the first Samoan to captain the world number one New Zealand All Blacks for the 2004 and 2005 test seasons. The New Zealand All Blacks have won three Rugby World Cup tournaments in 1987, 2011 and 2015. Samoan players featured for each of those winning sides-Michael Jones (rugby union) and Joe Stanley in 1987, eight players (Keven Mealamu, Mils Muliaina, Ma'a Nonu, Jerome Kaino, Victor Vito, John Afoa, Isaia Toeava and Sonny Bill Williams) in 2011 and also eight (Keven Mealamu, Jerome Kaino, Ma'a Nonu, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sonny Bill Williams, Liam Messam and Julian Savea) in 2015. Following their World Cup winning efforts, the New Zealand All Blacks were named Team of the Year at the 2016 Laureus World Sports Awards.[33]

In the abbreviated version of the code Rugby union sevens the Manu Samoa sevens team won the 2009–10 IRB Sevens World Series,[34] taking four of the eight tournament legs. Winger Mikaele Pesamino was the tournament's top tryscorer and was awarded the 2010 IRB World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year.[35] Teammate Uale Mai had previously won this award in 2006.[36] Other Samoans who have won this award are Orene Ai'i(2005), Afeleke Pelenise(2007) and DJ Forbes(2008), all three representing New Zealand.

In Rugby league, players of Samoan descent are well represented in the code's best club competition the NRL. At the end of the 2013 season, Sonny Bill Williams was voted the RLIF International Player of the Year, one of the most prestigious individual honours in the game. At international test level, Samoan representatives have been in World Cup winning sides, Josh Papalii with the 2013 Australian Kangaroos. At the 2008 Rugby League World Cup the winning New Zealand Kiwi squad featured eight Samoan players-David Fa'alogo, Steve Matai, Thomas Leuluai, Krisnan Inu, Jerome Ropati, Evarn Tuimavave, Jeremy Smith and Setaimata Sa. Iosia Soliola and Jeff Lima were both named in the final squad but withdrew due to injury.

Despite its small population, the island of American Samoa produces a disproportionately large number of world-class American football players.[37] Samoan Mosi Tatupu was a member of NFL team the New England Patriots. Samoan Troy Polamalu was a member of the NFL team the Pittsburgh Steelers until he retired after the 2014 football season. Polamalu was voted the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and former Oregon Ducks quarterback is of Samoan descent through his father.

There are a vast number of people of Samoan descent in the wrestling industry, such as Dwayne Johnson, of Samoan descent through his mother, who is an American actor and semi-retired professional wrestler of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. Other WWE superstars of Samoan descent include Roman Reigns who is a 3 time WWE Champion, Jimmy and Jey Uso (The Usos), Hall of Famers Rikishi (the Usos' real-life father) and Yokozuna, and the late Umaga.

Mixed martial artists of Samoan ancestry who have fought in the UFC are Mark Hunt, Max Holloway, Kendall Grove, Andre Fili, Robert Whittaker, Tyson Pedro, Falaniko Vitale and Kailin Curran. Both Whittaker and Grove are previous tournament winners of The Ultimate Fighter in the middleweight and welterweight divisions respectively. Max Holloway became the first fighter of Samoan descent to win a UFC world title, defeating Anthony Pettis for the interim UFC Featherweight Championship on December 10, 2016.[38] Mark Hunt the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix kickboxing Champion has challenged for both the UFC and Pride FC heavyweight titles. On September 24, 2016 Mighty Mo won the Road FC Openweight Tournament at Road FC 33 by knocking out Choi Hong-man of South Korea in the final.[39]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Census AmericanFactfinder". United States Census. Retrieved 2012-04-04. 
  2. ^ "Samoans: Facts and Figures". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 
  3. ^ "20680-Country of Birth of Person (full classification list) by Sex - Australia" (Microsoft Excel download). 2006 Census. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2008-06-02.  Total count of persons: 19,855,288.
  4. ^ International Religious Freedom Report 2007: Samoa. United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (September 14, 2007). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ Population of Samoa + their flag and capital city. (2006-12-14). Retrieved on 2011-08-22.
  6. ^ "Honolulu Mayor honors National Samoan Language Week". Samoa News. 2012-06-05. Retrieved 2012-06-07. 
  7. ^ [1].
  8. ^ 2006 Census Table : Australia. Retrieved on 2011-08-22.
  9. ^ Samoan History. Embassy of the United States.
  10. ^ Samoan Tattoos, Tatau, Tribal Tattoos, Designs | Polynesian Cultural Center. Retrieved on 2011-08-22.
  11. ^ "Samoan music". Archived from the original on March 7, 2000. Retrieved January 24, 2016. 
  12. ^ Cultural Self-Esteem – The Resource. The Next. Retrieved on 2011-08-22.
  13. ^ Rap News Network – Hip-Hop News: Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. Shows Their 'Angry Samoan' Side. Retrieved on 2011-08-22.
  14. ^ Samoa-Dance. 4 May 2004
  15. ^ Ron Flatter Davis. "Louganis never lost drive to dive". Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  16. ^ Nesian Village (2016-02-13). "PROFILE: ROBIN LEAMY (OLYMPIC SWIMMER)". Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  17. ^ David Davis (2012-04-05). "Robin Leamy ('86) Follows His Dreams". Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  18. ^ Sharon Robb (2003-04-06). "Fonoimoana Makes Name For Himself". Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  19. ^ The Circle Staff (2012-08-24). "Four Native women compete in the 2012 Olympic Games". Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  20. ^ "TUMUA ANAE". Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  21. ^ "David Tua New Zealand Olympian 684". Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  22. ^ Barbara Dreaver (2017-03-24). "Samoa receives its first Olympic medal after Ukranian drug cheats exposed". Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  23. ^ "Rio Olympics 2016: NZ women's sevens team celebrate with McDonalds run". 2016-08-13. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  24. ^ Peter Jessup (2017-05-03). "Boxing: South Auckland welder claims world middleweight title". Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  25. ^ Vatapuia Maiava (2017-01-01). "Lupesoliai La'auli Joseph Parker - Samoa's very own world champion". Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  26. ^ "Boxing Australia Annual Report 2011-2012" (PDF). p. 21. Retrieved 2017-04-18. 
  27. ^ Robin Chang (2012-06-12). "IFBB MASTERS OLYMPIA MOVING TO MIAMI, FLORIDA". Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  28. ^ Marty Gallagher (1996-01-01). "Sonny Schmidt: How he won the Masters Olympia". Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  29. ^ "Beatrice Faumuina wins athletics world championship gold". Retrieved 2017-04-18. 
  31. ^ Alex MacDonald (2001-12-10). "Mark Hunt Crowned 2001 K-1 Grand Prix Champion". Retrieved 2017-04-18. 
  32. ^ Rowan Hooper (2016-08-20). "The gene that may benefit sumo giants". Retrieved 2017-04-18. 
  33. ^ "All Blacks, Dan Carter winners at the prestigious Laureus Sport Awards". 2016-04-19. Retrieved 2017-04-17. 
  34. ^ (2010-05-30). "Samoa claim IRB Sevens Series crown". Retrieved 2017-04-17. 
  35. ^ Mike Jansen (2010-06-01). "Mikaele Pesamino: A true champion!". Retrieved 2017-04-17. 
  36. ^ "Samoa claim IRB Sevens Series crown". 2006-11-26. Retrieved 2017-04-17. 
  37. ^ American Samoa: Football Island,
  38. ^ "Max Holloway Ready to Prove He's Featherweight King". Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  39. ^ "video-Mighty Mo knocks out 7-foot-2 giant Hong Man Choi". Retrieved 2017-04-15. 

External linksEdit